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10 Fierce Facts About Dire Wolves

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Think dire wolves are a hundred percent fictional? You know nothing, Jon Snow. George R.R. Martin may have an epic imagination, but he didn’t completely make up these Game of Thrones creatures. The powerful canines that we now call “dire wolves” (Canis dirus) did, in fact, patrol North America during Earth’s last ice age. And though they would have been dwarfed by their counterparts in Westeros, the prehistoric predators were still formidable enough to scare the crud out of any Lannister. 

1. They Were More Muscular than Today’s Grey Wolves ...

As the cliché goes, dire wolves weren’t fat—just big-boned. Despite being about the same length as the gray wolf, C. dirus exceeded its modern cousin (Canis lupus) in weight by roughly 25 percent, which means members of the extinct species weighed somewhere between 125 and 175 pounds. Dire wolf bones were broader overall and connected to large, enviable muscles. On the downside, the stocky C. dirus probably wasn't super-speedy, as evidenced by its proportionately shorter legs.

2. … And Their Bites Were More Powerful, Too.

Paleontologist François Therrien calculated that dire wolves could chomp down with 129 percent of the force available to their 21st-century cousins. Yet, in his view, the jaws of another long-extinct carnivore would have made both of them look relatively toothless. Therrien estimates that even the most forceful dire wolf bite was only 69 percent as strong as those inflicted by the American lion (Panthera atrox), which disappeared 11,000 years ago.

3. Dire Wolves Had a Taste for Horses.

These hoofed mammals formed the bulk of a dire wolf’s diet, as revealed by tooth analyses. But bison, mastodons, ancient camels, and giant ground sloths were also available, if the wolves felt like shaking things up a bit.

4. SoCal’s La Brea Tar Pits are a Dire Wolf Gold Mine.

Pyry Matikainen, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Forget Winterfell: If you want to see some dire wolves, head to southern California. An awesome display case inside the Page Museum at the La Brea tar pits houses nearly 400 Canis dirus skulls. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—so far, the pits themselves have yielded more 200,000 individual dire wolf specimens. How did so many end up dying in the same place? Skip ahead to our next item.

5. Dire Wolves Coexisted with Saber-Toothed Cats.

Few prehistoric creatures are more iconic than the magnificent beast known scientifically as Smilodon fatalis. (Just so we're clear, those huge felines were not actually tigers.) After dire wolves, saber-toothed cats are the second most commonly-found mammal at the La Brea tar pits, where thousands of their bones have been discovered. In total, around 90 percent of La Brea’s mammalian fossils belonged to carnivores of some kind. That’s because, for several millennia, these pits functioned as a predator trap.

The process was fairly straightforward: When an herbivore would get stuck in the tar, hungry meat-eaters would come running, only to suffer an identical fate. As the corpses piled up, more and more carnivores were lured over, resulting in a local fossil record that disproportionately represents their population.

6. By Canine Standards, Dire Wolves Weren’t Especially Bright.

Dire wolves may have been stronger, but, by virtue of having bigger brain cases, grey wolves are likely smarter.

7. The Species Roamed from Canada to Bolivia.

Before they vanished 10,000 years ago, C. dirus must have been a common sight in the Western hemisphere.

8. Some Scientists Think They Originally Evolved in South America.

There’s been some debate as to which continent first gave rise to the dire wolf. While most paleontologists think the creature evolved on North American soil and spread southward, the opposite scenario is also possible. But because remains are much more common above the equator, and fossils from a probable ancestor named Canis armbusteri are found exclusively within U.S. borders, the first theory is far more popular.

9. Specimens from 12,000 Years Ago Broke Fewer Teeth than Those from 15,000 Years Ago.

When competition dries up, the pickings get better. It’s been suggested that dire wolves had to contend with more rival predators 15,000 years ago than they did later on. This forced them to scavenge carcasses that had already been stripped of the good stuff whenever other hunters drove off their live prey. Because bone-gnawing after meals can really take a toll on one’s teeth, C. dirus back then suffered from widespread dental woes. But theoretically, as their competitors started dying off, the dire wolves were left with more kills, meatier corpses, and healthier chompers.

10. One Organization is Trying to Breed Faux Dire Wolves.

The real thing is long gone, but we may still be able to create some pretty convincing stand-ins. Since 1988, the American Altisan Breeder’s Association has been combining various dog breeds “in order to bring back the look of the large prehistoric Dire Wolf.” The resulting pooches have been described as calm, shaggy, and “distinctly wolfy.” But be warned: one pup will set you back $3000, and there’s a sizable waiting list. On the bright side, you’ll have plenty of time to pick out a name—though we’re calling dibs on “Ghost.”

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Big Questions
Why Do We Dive With Sharks But Not Crocodiles?
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Why do we dive with sharks but not crocodiles?

Eli Rosenberg:

The issue is the assumption that sharks' instincts are stronger and more basic.

There are a couple of reasons swimming with sharks is safer:

1. Most sharks do not like the way people taste. They expect their prey to taste a certain way, like fish/seal, and we do not taste like that. Sharks also do not like the sensation of eating people. Bigger sharks like great whites enjoy prey with a high fat-bone ratio like seals. Smaller sharks enjoy eating fish, which they can gobble in one bite. So, while they might bite us, they pretty quickly decide “That’s not for me” and swim away. There is only one shark that doesn’t really care about humans tasting icky: that shark is our good friend the tiger shark. He is one of the most dangerous species because of his nondiscriminatory taste (he’s called the garbage can of the sea)!

2. Sharks are not animals that enjoy a fight. Our big friend the great white enjoys ambushing seals. This sneak attack is why it sometimes mistakes people for seals or sea turtles. Sharks do not need to fight for food. The vast majority of sharks species are not territorial (some are, like the blacktip and bull). The ones that are territorial tend to be the more aggressive species that are more dangerous to dive with.

3. Sharks attacked about 81 people in 2016, according to the University of Florida. Only four were fatal. Most were surfers.

4. Meanwhile, this is the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is not a big, fishy friend, like the shark. He is an opportunistic, aggressive, giant beast.


5. Crocodiles attack hundreds to thousands of people every single year. Depending on the species, one-third to one-half are fatal. You have a better chance of survival if you played Russian roulette.

6. The Death Roll. When a crocodile wants to kill something big, the crocodile grabs it and rolls. This drowns and disorients the victim (you). Here is a PG video of the death roll. (There is also a video on YouTube in which a man stuck his arm into an alligator’s mouth and he death rolled. You don’t want to see what happened.)

7. Remember how the shark doesn’t want to eat you or fight you? This primordial beast will eat you and enjoy it. There is a crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has allegedly killed around 300 people. (I personally believe 300 is a hyped number and the true number might be around 100, but yikes, that’s a lot). Gustave has reportedly killed people for funsies. He’s killed them and gone back to his business. So maybe they won’t even eat you.


8. Sharks are mostly predictable. Crocodiles are completely unpredictable.

9. Are you in the water or by the edge of the water? You are fair game to a crocodile.

10. Crocodiles have been known to hang out together. The friend group that murders together eats together. Basks of crocodiles have even murdered hippopotamuses, the murder river horse. Do you think you don't look like an appetizer?

11. Wow, look at this. This blacktip swims among the beautiful coral, surrounded by crystal clear waters and staggering biodiversity. I want to swim there!

Oh wow, such mud. I can’t say I feel the urge to take a dip. (Thanks to all who pointed this out!)

12. This is not swimming with the crocodiles. More like a 3D aquarium.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Animals
10 Filling Facts About Turkeys
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Don’t be fooled by their reputation for being thoughtless. These roly-poly birds have a few tricks up their wings.

1. THE BIRDS WERE NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

The turkey is an American bird, so why does it share its name with a country on the other side of the world? Laziness, mostly. Turkish traders had been importing African guinea fowl to Europe for some time when North American explorers started shipping M. gallopavo back to the Old World. The American birds looked kind of like the African “turkey-cocks,” and so Europeans called them “turkeys.” Eventually, the word “turkey” came to describe M. gallopavo exclusively.

2. THEY NEARLY WENT EXTINCT.

By the early 20th century, the combination of overzealous hunting and habitat destruction had dwindled the turkey populations down to 30,000. With the help of conservationists, the turkey made a comeback. The birds are now so numerous that they’ve become a nuisance in some parts of the country.

3. THEY’VE GOT TWO STOMACHS.

Like all birds, turkeys don’t have teeth, so they’ve got to enlist some extra help to break down their food. Each swallowed mouthful goes first into a chamber called a proventriculus, which uses stomach acid to start softening the food. From there, food travels to the gizzard, where specialized muscles smash it into smaller pieces.

4. FEMALE TURKEYS DON’T GOBBLE.

Turkeys of both sexes purr, whistle, cackle, and yelp, but only the males gobble. A gobble is the male turkey’s version of a lion’s roar, announcing his presence to females and warning his rivals to stay away. To maximize the range of their calls, male turkeys often gobble from the treetops.

5. THEY SLEEP IN TREES.

Due to their deliciousness, turkeys have a lot of natural predators. As the sun goes down, the turkeys go up—into the trees. They start by flying onto a low branch, then clumsily hop their way upward, branch by branch, until they reach a safe height.

6. BOTH MALE AND FEMALE TURKEYS HAVE WATTLES.

The wattle is the red dangly bit under the turkey’s chin. The red thing on top of the beak is called a snood. Both sexes have those, too, but they’re more functional in male turkeys. Studies have shown that female turkeys prefer mates with longer snoods, which may indicate health and good genes.

7. THEY HAVE REALLY GOOD VISION.

Turkey eyes are really, really sharp. On top of that, they’ve got terrific peripheral vision. We humans can only see about 180 degrees, but given the placement of their eyes on the sides of their heads, turkeys can see 270 degrees. They’ve also got way better color vision than we do and can see ultraviolet light.

8. THEY’RE FAST ON THE GROUND, TOO.

You wouldn’t guess it by looking at them, but turkeys can really book it when they need to. We already know they’re fast in the air; on land, a running turkey can reach a speed of up to 25 mph—as fast as a charging elephant.

9. THEY’RE SMART … BUT NOT THAT SMART.

Turkeys can recognize each other by sound, and they can visualize a map of their territory. They can also plan ahead and recognize patterns. In other ways, they’re very, very simple animals. Male turkeys will attack anything that looks remotely like a threat, including their own reflections in windows and car doors.

10. IN THE EVENT OF A TURKEY ATTACK, CALL THE POLICE.

They might look silly, but a belligerent turkey is no joke. Male turkeys work very hard to impress other turkeys, and what could be more impressive than attacking a bigger animal? Turkey behavior experts advise those who find themselves in close quarters with the big birds to call the police if things get mean. Until the authorities arrive, they say, your best bet is to make yourself as big and imposing as you possibly can.

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